overused or undervalued?

Outrage:  (noun) an extremely strong reaction of shock or indignation.

I’m starting to wonder if outrage is the most over-used word of our day, and simultaneously the most undervalued.

A quick search over at news.com.au (everybody’s favourite fair and balanced news source) takes just 0.5 seconds to turn up 44400 stories that feature the word outrage. Everything is an outrage! Everything!

  • Triple J moving the hottest 100 countdown away from Jan 26…because Australia Day
  • Triple M playing a hottest 100 countdown on Jan 26…because Australia Day
  • Cyclists for riding too slow, or to fast, or existing at all
  • Donald Trump insulting African nations
  • People defending Donald Trump from African nations
  • Just about anything else you can think of…the list is long and entertaining

The play seems fairly straightforward – generate clicks (and therefore advertising revenue) by generating a response of outrage.  Generate comments and therefore more return visits by inviting that manufactured outrage to be vented. Essentially, outrage makes money (for someone).

To be fair, news.com.au is just one example – pick your favourite news source, social media channel, politician and the word “outrage” (or the idea, cloaked in another word or phrase (like “war on X”… favoured by tv ‘current affairs’ shows) won’t be far away.  And it has become infectious: read the comments section under just about any “news” article and you’ll find a stream of outrage…usually from both ends of the spectrum…defending their view (to the death if necessary) and insulting the intelligence, appearance, beliefs (and so on) of those with an alternate view.

We’ve become a society that wears outrage like a bad tattoo (somewhere, someone who loves tattoos just got a little outraged that I used that metaphor, while somewhere else a writer is outraged because it’s a stupid metaphor anyway…but I digress).

Social media enables us to vent this outrage (which has often been manufactured or encouraged by someone else) from the safety of our keyboards (hey…like I’m doing now!) and the capacity for civil discourse suffers as a result. I’d almost go so far as to say that the phenomenon of outrage is what enables people like Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson or Peter Dutton to do their thing (cue more outrage). The modern political system thrives on generating and harnessing outrage. It’s a lazy way to lead, but sadly it seems to work when it comes to the task of getting elected.

Outrage: so over-used its not funny.

And it isn’t funny…because genuine outrage matters. Outrage at the treatment of women by powerful men. Outrage at the hoarding of wealth by some at the expense of others. Outrage at the destruction being wrought on our environment in the name of profit. Outrage at church ministers that have abused children, and church organisations that have covered it up. Outrage that Microsoft still include Comic Sans in the standard fonts for their software. Outrage matters.

Genuine outrage changes the world.  Genuine outrage challenges slavery, abusive economic systems, blatantly discriminatory practice, violence and more. Outrage matters a great deal, and in some ways, in the world we’ve created for ourselves, there should be more of it.

But the outrage that matters is being drowned out by this manufactured, confected outrage that fills our screens and our minds, sells advertising and generates views, and in the process alienates us from one another.

For most of us, with respect to most issues, we just need to calm down a little.  I don’t know where it came from, but the phrase “calm your farm” has been on high rotation in our house over the last few months. Many of us could do well to apply this mantra to our lives.

And for most of us, we then need to think carefully about the issues that need genuine outrage…and then put that to good use. Outrage isn’t just for selling advertising…its for changing the world.

That’s what I’m wondering about today.


the pothole

The pothole (the geological kind, not the road traffic kind) is, I think, an interesting phenomenon.

A little pebble gets caught in a crack or depression, swirls around and gradually, bit-by-bit, grinds away the underlying rock. It digs deeper and deeper, over hundreds, thousands, even millions of years.

I quite like potholes because they remind me that with persistence and time, even a little gravel can make big changes.

But the metaphor works the other way too…that over such a long period, a little pebble can do a lot of damage.

I’m starting to wonder more and more if there’s a sad, disturbing kind of pothole forming in in our (western, mainstream, Australian) culture. Here’s a couple of symptoms:

The vast majority of climate scientists are very clear about anthropogenic climate change. We are heating up our planet with our insatiable desire for burning fossil fuels, and we will pay a heavy price. More frequent, more intense weather events, rising sea levels, loss of habitat and flora/fauna, people dying. Those that are best placed to know, appear relatively certain that this is all true.  Almost every counter-argument has been demonstrated to be false.  And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, be held hostage by big business and declare “climate change is crap” because “I know a guy who said….”

Immunisation rates are falling, with the result that herd immunity against long-ago contained diseases is now at risk in parts of Australia.  Medical experts (those that are best placed to know) are clear about the value of immunisation, and the tiny risks involved in it. And yet we stand on our right to hold our own opinion, to deny our own children (and other children) this safety net.

Politicians are almost universally disliked and regarded as untrustworthy.  For non-believers the same is true for religious leaders. And probably a long list of others.  We who sit at home and google conspiracy theories feel quite justified in declaring that we know better than those best placed to know…about nearly any topic we care to name.

I personally am the “World’s Expert” (TM) on medicine, climate science, national leadership, international relations, economics, search and rescue for lost aircraft,  Formula 1 Team Management, Australian Cricket team selection, NRL refereeing standards…and plenty more.

And so I make  up my own mind, irrespective of the views of those who are best placed to know.

I’m not (really) interested in debating the pros and cons of climate science, religion or immunisation, but I am wondering whether these things are symptoms (rather than causes) of a bigger issue:

The erosion of trust.

As a society I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming a place in which trust is an ever decreasing commodity.  With the rise of the individual and of self-determination, comes a first subtle, but now accelerating erosion of trust.

I don’t trust politicians, I don’t trust the media, I don’t trust scientists, I don’t trust religious leaders…on and on it goes. I don’t trust my neighbours enough to let my kids walk to school alone.

And sure, let’s be fair and honest, some of those whom we no longer trust bring it on themselves (I’m looking at you Australian politics), but just as often it’s because I get an idea in my head that I know better.

I know better than the climate scientist, the immunologist, the referee, the footy selector.

And so the next time we disagree, I’ll trust them a little less.  And a little less. And a little less.

Until there’s just not a whole lot of trust left.

Mis-trust might just be the pebble that is digging away at the bedrock, forming a deeper and deeper pothole.

And trust, it seems to me, is one of those things that is self-fulfilling.  If I exhibit trust, then those I trust are more likely to act in a a trustworthy way, and so I’ll trust them more (and so on).  Could the reverse, I wonder, also be true?

If my pondering has any merit (and lets be frank, as I’ve already announced, I’m the World’s Expert (TM), so it must) the question must be, what to do about it? How to remove the pebble of mistrust and start to repair the damage?

Is the answer to try harder to trust the people around me? The people who are best placed to know? To explicitly put my trust in them and demand trustworthy action?


But just as important, it seems to me, the answer is for me to act in a trustworthy manner myself – to build the pool of communal trust that is going around, by ensuring that my family, my friends, my colleagues, those I support in my daily work, my neighbours (those I encounter as I live my life)…they can trust me.

To trust, and be trusted.

Sounds like community.

(p.s. just so we’re really clear…the “World’s Expert” (TM) claim is an attempt at humour…)


betting the grocery money

Tasmania has a population of around 500 000 people.  It’s a relatively small place.

Staggeringly, so far in 2010, we have collectively lost over $100 million on poker machines.  $100 million.  That’s $200 for every single man, woman and child.   Something like 120000 of the population are children, so that bumps the per adult loss up to the vicinity of $260 each.  There are obviously a lot of families who don’t gamble at all…..so the picture for those who do, and those who are ‘problem’ gamblers with serious addictions just keeps getting worse and worse.

Those stats are the tip of a horror story. It’s nothing less than frightening that as a state we’ve lost $100 million from family budgets to poker machines in just six months. That’s not including losses at gaming tables, betting on horse racing or other sporting or community events.

How many families are on the edge because of gambling addiction? How much crime is gambling related? How many relationships are damaged or destroyed?

I’m declaring myself not to be a wowser. I don’t mind the odd raffle ticket to support a community initiative, or maybe an office Melbourne Cup sweep, but how far do we let our collective addiction to gambling go?

Right now you can bet on anything you like.  Julia Gillard for PM? You’ll currently win $1.52 for every $1 you bet.  Meanwhile David Wirrpanda is at $26 for a $1 bet to win Dancing with the Stars.  Daily news and sports reports will let you know the odds for your football, basketball, cricket or european handball team.  Every day. Time after time.  Encouraging you to lose your money, your family, your groceries. I can only imagine how much the internet gambling companies pay our commercial news providers to include that information in impartial news bulletins.

We’ve invited gambling into our lounge rooms – not just via the internet, but on the evening news.

If I’m frank, I’m appalled by it.

But the pokies still seem to be the big issue, at least here in Tasmania.  Everywhere poker machines are installed, gambling revenue goes up.  In lower socio-economic areas the pokie losses are higher that other places.

And the state government? They earn almost $90 000 000 each year from gambling taxes. Think they’ll do much about it? Wanna bet?

What does it say about us as a community? A society?

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be letting my community leaders know that I’m very concerned about the costs of gaming machines and gambling for our families, our communities, our state.

the australia i want to believe in

An open letter to Australia’s political leaders….

I want to take this opportunity, on the eve of an election, to tell you – the political leaders of this nation – about the country that I want to be a part of.  And I want to tell you about the kinds of political leaders that I want leading us into our future. Continue reading

leadership by opinion

I’m not one to buy into political debate.

Really, I’m not.

But I’m increasingly concerned about what we’re seeing in federal politics in Australia at the moment.  It appears to me, that leadership and policy-making are increasingly being shaped by opinion polls, and by doing ‘whatever it takes’ to remain in power by pandering to voters.

Perhaps its naive of me to think it, but I’d far rather have leaders who lead from their convictions, from well thought out and argued basis, than by figuring out what’s the most popular opinion to hold.

Where are the leaders who will cast their vision on asylum seekers, mining taxes, or climate change, and then convince us to follow them?    Consultation is one thing, but sometimes the ‘majority of voters’ are wrong and need to be told they (we) are wrong.

At least part (and perhaps a big part) of the issue is that today leadership is executed by ‘sound bite’.  Very few Australians get to hear or see extended presentations from those who would lead us.  Most of us catch 30 seconds on the news at night, a paragraph or two on a commercial news website (with its own axe to grind) or the distilled opinions of others in our facebook or twitter feeds.

That’s no way to engage with those who would lead our nation. But that’s all most of us are prepared to give.

Is it any wonder that our leaders lead based on the sound bites they get back, when that’s all we ‘re prepared to hear from them?

With our increasingly self-centred existence, and inability to enter in genuine dialogue on all sorts of topics, perhaps it’s no surprise our leaders have given up trying to lead us when we plainly won’t follow (that’s a topic perhaps for another day).

Maybe we’re getting exactly the kind of leadership we deserve.

PS: I know, just one or two sweeping generalisations in this post. But still, I’ll stand by my opinion. Unless I take a poll and discover its unpopular.